Friday, May. 26, 2023

The IHSA Brings Out The Best In Horse Showing

For more than 10 years, I have been involved with the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, judging shows and teaching hunter seat equitation clinics to some of the teams. The organization asked me to sell sponsorships and co-manage its National Championship in 1997. I've even designed courses and provided timing equipment for an international-level competition.

PUBLISHED

ADVERTISEMENT

For more than 10 years, I have been involved with the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, judging shows and teaching hunter seat equitation clinics to some of the teams. The organization asked me to sell sponsorships and co-manage its National Championship in 1997. I’ve even designed courses and provided timing equipment for an international-level competition.

I really like the spirit of the group and the positive spin it puts on the horse industry. Providing a form of equestrian competition for college students is a noble task. Here’s a group of people with very little money, who attend an institution for four or more years. Very often they are only satisfying the demands of parents and society to “do something with their lives.” Unfortunately, our parents know that very few people ever “make it” (money) in the horse industry. So we have been forced to dedicate our lives to becoming doctors, lawyers, scientists, or some other occupation that can pay back the tuition bills and pay for our passion of horses.

This is a heavy burden, indeed. It all seems like a vicious cycle to me. So let’s talk about some positive, life-affirming experience, like being strapped on a strange horse and aiming yourself at a jump at 10 miles an hour. The IHSA builds a new generation of adventurous, non-materialistic people in our society. These are people who work hard for the sheer love of horses and riding.

Serving time in this organization is therapeutic and constructive; I believe that the IHSA is building a better world one rider at a time. I had no prior experience with the IHSA before moving to Massachusetts as a “housewife” in 1992. I attended Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where they held the national title in ultimate frisbee.

ADVERTISEMENT

The school’s mascot is the Goeduck, an oversized clam. Needless to say, they did not have a riding team. I had to hustle to find a place to ride. Eventually, I moved back to my family’s farm in Tacoma and commuted to school because college life didn’t include enough horse activity for me. A note to parents: You should be grateful for the IHSA. Become aware of the locations of participating IHSA colleges because it may be the only chance you have to keep your horse-crazy children in school.

The organization offers more than just riding opportunities for students. Students put on the horse shows. They are not run by paid professionals, which always makes for an interesting show from my perspective. People are always being broken in to a job they have never done before. They may be asked to help with course building, show management or promotions, and administrative duties. There is always a friendly environment, with a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude. You don’t find the authoritative condemnation you may experience at other horse events.

The shows begin with the open jumping classes. The most experienced riders perform first. They are followed by intermediate and novice level jumping riders. Around lunch-time, the course is removed from the arena, and flat classes are run in the afternoon. Some of the most nail-biting competition comes at the end of the day when science and math majors are asked to compete in the walk-trot divisions. These are riders with very little experience in the saddle, and yet the whole team is depending on these poor guys to clinch the day’s winning score.

Most of the clothes these riders wear have been loaned to them by their teammates to make them look their best. This format keeps people interested until the end of the day and sometimes makes for hilarious sport. There is an underlying theme of team spirit and cooperation that you just don’t find anywhere else in the horse industry.

ADVERTISEMENT

The quality of the shows themselves is constantly improving. When I moved here 10 years ago, the jumps at the shows were barely painted, and the course fill was minimal at best. The course patterns were simplistic, and horse turn-out and grooming was not completely prideful. Now it seems like a whole new game. Good courses give riders lots of options and places to show their abilities, or hide the inabilities of the horse they are riding. Horses are turned out with show-quality braids and tack. At one of the shows I judged last spring, the horses all came out in expensive matching coolers and beautiful equipment. I had to ask myself, “Just what show am I at here?” and “Where can I get a cooler like that?” The quality of everything was exceptional.

As a judge, I love working for the IHSA because I am able to pick the very best rider, period. At regular shows I must eliminate a rider for technicalities or faults of the horse. In the IHSA, I can really focus on the abilities and reactions of the rider. If someone handles a disobedience well, or gives a horse the confidence it needs, they get bonus points. It’s nice to reward good riding for what it is, instead of who is on the best horse.

These shows start promptly at 8 a.m. and are usually done by 5 p.m., unlike other shows I know. Class sizes rarely exceed eight horses. As a judge, I always get a fair chance to watch each rider. On the flat I can ask for tests because there is plenty of space in the ring. In the best interest of the horse, classes are run promptly so as not to tire them out. It is challenging and fun to see what can be accomplished in a short amount of time and be fair to both horse and rider. I always like to give the riders a chance to prove that they are really the best.

IHSA founder Bob Cacchione inspires the overall feeling of team spirit that is found at these competitions. He has instilled good sportsmanship and team spirit in a sport that was previously devoid of these traits. A lot has happened to the IHSA in the past decade. Some colleges have given the sport accreditation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, meaning you can actually get a scholarship based on your ability to ride. Talent scouting events for college-bound high school students are in existence. Denna Johnson runs such an event in Florida, where coaches can scout for riding talent, and prospective students can meet coaches. It’s an exciting world for young people going off to college these days. It’s a very different story from my own experience. For many of you modern-day scholars, there is an alternative to moving back to the family’s farm; you can join the IHSA. Shaina Humphrey, of Granby, Mass., is an IHSA judge, clinician and course designer.

Categories:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

No Articles Found

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2023 The Chronicle of the Horse